Govt ready for talks with all groups in J&K: PM24 May 2010
The Daily Excelsior
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh today said his Government is ready to hold dialogue with all groups in Jammu and Kashmir which are outside the political mainstream provided they shun violence. 'I would once again like to appeal to all elements in Jammu and Kashmir that our Government is ready for a dialogue provided that all these groups which are outside the political mainstream shed the path of violence,' he said at a national press conference here ahead of his visit to the State scheduled early next month. The Prime Minister said during his visit to the border State, he would review the development programmes and would discuss with the Omar Abdullah-led Government issues relating to accelerating the growth process. 'As far as my visit to Kashmir is concerned, it is a visit to one of the States of the Union. I would like to review the development programmes. 'As far as political situation in Kashmir is concerned, we have a democratic Government, how it is functioning...I would like to discuss with the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, what more can be done to accelerate the pace of development and further more,' he said. Dr Singh made it clear that his Government does not look at terrorism through the prism of religion and was ready to tackle it effectively. 'Our Government's policy is whatever may be the source of terrorism, whether it is Muslim involvement or Hindu involvement, I think we must tackle that problem effectively,' he said. When asked about the reports of rise of Hindu terrorism in the country. Dr Singh said terrorism was a major national security issue which was a matter of concern and it has no religion. 'Terrorism has no religion. Terrorism which is being sponsored by particular religious elements, it has to be dealt with effectively, purposefully,' he said. The Prime Minister said his Government was determined to tackle the threat of terrorism and ideological extremism of various kinds. Dr Singh said there cannot be any 'substantive' negotiations with Pakistan unless the 'biggest problem' of 'trust-deficit' was tackled by the two countries. Dr Singh said India was also willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan if it ensures that its soil is not used for terrorism against it. Terming 'trust deficit' as the 'biggest problem', Singh said, 'It is my conviction that the major problem between our two countries, why we could not make any headway in the composite dialogue, is that there has been a lack of adequate trust. 'Trust deficit is the biggest problem and unless we tackle the trust deficit we cannot move to substantive negotiations.' He said both him and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani had in Thimphu agreed that 'trust-deficit' was the major problem blocking progress in moving forward and it should be 'our common endeavour to bridge or to reduce this trust deficit, that is why we agreed that our Foreign Ministers will meet.' Maintaining that it was important for the country to 'have best possible relations' with Pakistan to realise 'full development potential', the Prime Minister said, 'It has been my effort to try to reduce the gap between our two countries without surrendering or without affecting our vital national interest.' He was asked why he chose to resume a full-fledged dialogue with Pakistan. He also that 'we are willing to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan. But it (Pakistan) should ensure that its soil is not used for terrorism against India.' 'Pakistan is our neighbour. It is my firm belief that India cannot realise its full development potential unless we have the best possible relations with our neighbours and Pakistan happens to be largest neighbour of ours,' Dr Singh said. On the forthcoming dialogue between Foreign Ministers of the two countries, the Prime Minister said this will be the first major effort to deal with the underlining problem of 'trust-deficit'. India had suspended the Composite Dialogue process after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. The Prime Minister said he was hopeful that this (dialogue) process can move forward and that was the message he had got from his counterpart as well. However, when asked again about the success of the process, Singh said, 'We will make every effort to normalise' whether it will succeed or not, only future can tell. Asked if the two countries have talked about India getting back territories under PoK, he said, 'There are many issues that we are discussing with Pakistan. Talks could not reach that level to find solutions to the question asked by you.' Parliament has already passed a resolution describing entire Jammu and Kashmir, including PoK, as part of India. Dr Singh ruled out retirement since his tasks remain 'unfinished' but offered to make way for a younger leader if the Congress party wanted that. Mr Singh scotched speculation of 'mistrust and distrust' between him and party president Sonia Gandhi, saying that there was 'not an iota of truth' in that. He was asked whether he would make way for Rahul Gandhi to take over during his current tenure which will end in 2014 and whether the thought of retirement came to his mind. In a carefully-crafted response, Singh told over 700 journalists, 'I have been given this task (of Prime Ministership). It is still unfinished. Till I finish the tasks, there is no question of retirement.' At the same time, he said he himself felt sometimes that younger people should take over. 'As and when, the Congress party makes that judgement, I will be very happy to make place for anybody chosen by the party,' he said. At another point, the 77-year-old leader said Rahul Gandhi was 'very qualified' to join his Cabinet and he had talked to him about it several times but the young leader wanted to focus more on building the party. 'Whenever he (Rahul) is ready, he would be an appropriate addition to the Cabinet,' the Prime Minister said. Dismissing speculation about lack of coordination between the Government and the party, the Prime Minister said he meets Sonia Gandhi every week to discuss some major issues and continued to receive 'advice and guidance' from her. To a question, Dr Singh said he had renewed his offer to 39-year-old Rahul to join the Government but he has always been reluctant. 'Rahul is very qualified to hold a Cabinet post. I have discussed with him on a number of occasions though I donít remember exactly the date when I discussed with him last,' Singh said. He said as and when Rahul decides to join the Cabinet he would be given an appropriate role. Dr Singh, however, deftly evaded a question on the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle or expansion, saying this could not be announced at a press conference and the media would come to know whenever there is any such move. Delving on internal security, the Prime Minister said naxalism had emerged as the 'biggest' challenge and the Government was working on 'systemic changes' to deal with this as well as terrorism. Dr Singh said the US has assured India that it will get the highest level of access to David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani American who has been indicted for his role in the 26-11 Mumbai terror attack. Asked about the delay in granting permission to India to interrogate Headley, Dr Singh replied 'We have been assured at the highest level of access.' Making a strong pitch for passage of the nuclear liability bill, Dr Singh said all political parties interested in ensuring that India's atomic power programme moves forward will support it. 'All political parties interested in India's growth, interested in ensuring that India's nuclear power programme moves forward will support it,' he said to a question on the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. Dr Singh said the passage of the legislation was necessary if India wanted to become a major nuclear energy power. 'We have the need to ensure that our country does have an effective nuclear liability compensation arrangement. This we need if we have to become a major nuclear energy power,' the Prime Minister said. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, fixes the maximum amount of liability in case of a nuclear accident at Rs 500 crore, to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant. Opposition parties argue this amount was too little and want the Government to hike it. The passage of the bill is a key requirement for implementing the landmark 2008 India-US nuclear deal. 'I have no doubt that as far as the nuclear agreement with the US is concerned it will move forward,' Singh said. The Government tabled the bill in the Lok Sabha earlier this month which has since been referred to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology. Dr Singh said Ministers should show restraint in airing differences in public as they have a forum like the Cabinet where they can discuss all contentious issues. 'The Cabinet meets on schedule every week. It is here that such issues should be discussed,' he added. 'Dialogue between Ministers are welcome, but it is not good that this should be aired in public,' Dr Singh said. The question was about the damage done by the criticism of the Home Ministry by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for what he called restrictive policies on granting visas to Chinese engineers. Dr Singh said dialogues between Ministers in a democracy were healthy but 'the most important thing is that the matters which are with the Cabinet should be taken up in the Cabinet first.'